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Leonardo Faccio | Messi (Vintage)

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book messi"Like Maradona, Messi does not apply his brilliance to anything else other than playing soccer."

 

Lionel Messi is filming a commercial for Adidas soccer shoes. The premise is that he and David Beckham are having a conversation, although Beckham's part has already been recorded. He is told to look into the camera, to pretend he is talking to David Beckham, and to say, "What would you have been if you hadn't been a soccer player?" Messi is petulant. "But I don't care what Beckham would've liked to be," he responds.

After reading Messi, Leonardo Faccio's exceedingly well-written, captivating, and almost poetic biography of arguably the best soccer player the world has ever known, I can tell you what Lionel Messi would be doing if he didn't play soccer: Nothing. He'd be stuck in the Argentinean barrio in which he was raised, where his mother, sister, and second brother still live (his father and older brother, Rodrigo, moved to Spain with him in 2001, where they remain to manage his career). Like his younger brother, Matías, Lionel Messi would probably be in and out of jail, and struggling with drugs.

Why do I say this? Lionel Messi doesn't seem to have another talent or interest. "Like Maradona," Faccio writes, referring to another Argentinean soccer legend, Diego Maradona, "Messi does not apply his brilliance to anything else other than playing soccer. ... The guy who entertains millions of us finds nothing better to do with his afternoons than lie down and sleep."

The book opens with the author's one and only interview with the man himself, a 15-minute chat conducted at Ciutat Esportiva, the training ground of his club team, Spanish La Liga legends FC Barcelona. (Messi also plays for the Argentina national team.) "One waits fifteen months to get fifteen minutes with him," Faccio writes.

The interview takes place in August 2009, just before the football season is about to begin. Messi is tired; he's missing his post-workout nap to talk to Faccio. "By accepting this interview, Messi has deprived himself of a ritual he has maintained since his childhood. Every day, after soccer practice at the club, he eats and goes to sleep, awakening two to three hours later... The siesta, to him, is like a ceremony whose purpose has changed with time."

They talk about Messi's recent vacation to Disneyland (time off bores him), his lack of favorite television shows (TV bores him), and his girlfriend, whom he has known since they were young (yet he is not ready to get married). After 10 minutes, Messi begins looking around; he's bored with this interview. A couple of minutes later, the club's publicity director begins the countdown: Faccio's time with the global sports legend is nearing its end. Kudos to Faccio for getting an interview at all.

For the next two years, throughout the rest of the book, Faccio talks to those who know Messi, or knew him—former teachers, ex-teammates, family members, even the doctor who treated him for dwarfism. Messi's nickname is La Pulga: the flea. Faccio explains: "As a child, Lionel Messi played soccer like a marvelous flea...and as every marvelous flea, he did not grow." Of books, Faccio says, "...he doesn't want to read. Books, to him, are like neighbors he doesn't feel like greeting."

Messi is filled not just with exposition, but brief—very brief—statements, non-sequiturs, and fun facts. Messi sleeps a lot. Messi fell asleep in class. Messi eats meat; he dislikes vegetables and fish. Messi is five-foot-seven. As a child, Messi suffered from a rare form of dwarfism; it is only because he gave himself daily hormone injections in both legs years that he grew as tall as he is, and it is only due to his signing with Barcelona at such a young age—13—that he could continue to receive the expensive treatment.

Messi is almost sullen when he has to fulfill sponsorship obligations. He hates to have to work, to risk injury off the field, but also can't stand to have his abilities questioned. He arrives on set for a shoe commercial, limping, to find he is expected to kick a ball more than 65 feet. "'I asked him to aim at the camera and kick,'" recalls the director; "'I asked him if he was capable of making the shot.'" Messi lowers his head. "Suddenly, one can hear glass and metal shattering. Messi has blown away the camera in one fell swoop."

Toward the end of the book, in 2011, Faccio travels to Rosario, the small, working-class Argentinean town where Messi grew up. There, he tracks down old friends, the star's troubled brother, his estranged grandparents. "Grandparents keep the memories we forget," he writes. "Messi's paternal grandmother remembers him as a child who would stop by the bakery to ask her for a few coins. The grandmother raises her voice, revealing a mouth missing teeth. 'I helped them with bread and milk. And now look how they repay me.'"

Matías is clearly in awe of Lionel. "The second brother has Messi's image tattooed on his left arm... At his Rosario home, the second Messi brother has created a family museum filled with soccer balls, jerseys, shoes, and photos. He's a fraternal fetishist." The brother also feels he brings bad luck to the family—certainly bad publicity. On more than one occasion, he has been arrested for fighting, for weapons. "'You go a little crazy because you see him everywhere,'" Matías tells Faccio.

Sitting at Ciutat Esportiva in August 2009, his time with Messi nearly over, the author notes: "He's a warrior with a child's gaze." | Laura Hamlett

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